What’s in a name?

Illustration for the Washington Post's KidsPost section. Bigstockphoto.com images.

WASHINGTON POST ILLUSTRATION; BIGSTOCK IMAGES

William Shakespeare, that really famous writer of stories including “Romeo and Juliet,” didn’t think that names should matter very much.

He had Juliet say:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

But many of us would disagree with old Shakespeare on how much a name matters.

For example, do you like being one of four Andrews in your class? Or do you tease the girl named Amelia by calling her Amelia Bedelia, after the character in the books?

The government keeps track of baby names, noting which ones are popular when. (A record of every birth, complete with the child’s name, gets filed with the government.) A new Web site called Findmypast.com looked at the records and made a fascinating discovery: The most popular girl names change a whole lot more than the most popular boy names.

Look at thelists in the next column. They show the five most popular girl and boy names in 1940 and where those names rank today.

We could be wrong, but we’re guessing that more of you have a James, William or Robert in your classroom than have a Judith, Barbara or Betty.

Girl names 1940 rank

2011 rank

Mary 1 112

Barbara 2 774
Patricia 3 667
Judith 4 883
Betty 5 Not in the

top 1,000

→ Boy names 1940 rank 2011

rank

James 1 17

Robert 2 61

John 3 27

William 4 3

Richard 5 127

What are the names you’re most likely to be ca lling classmates this year? Here are the most popular names for babies born in 2002, who will be turning 10 this year. Is your name here?

→Most popular names 2002

Emily Jacob

Madison Michael

Hannah Joshua

Emma Matthew

Alexis Ethan

So what does it all mean? Not much. Kids have to live with the names their parents give them. And it’s easy for Shakespeare to say names don’t matter. “William” is still pretty popular.

— Tracy Grant

 
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